Gordon Ryan, St. Paddy’s Day Grand Marshal

This year's grand marshal in Montauk, Gordon Ryan, preparing for a dress rehearsal for Montauk’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Independent/T. E. McMorrow

For the first time in a long time, Amagansett resident Gordon Ryan will not be entering his usual whimsical float in the Montauk Friends of Erin St. Patrick’s Day Parade. That is because Ryan will be marching in front of the parade, leading it as Grand Marshal.

“Being voted Grand Marshal is probably one of the biggest honors that Montauk can give anybody. That, and the Chamber of Commerce’s Man of the Year,” Ryan, 69, said Friday. Ryan hasn’t been named as Man of the Year yet, so, apparently, his bucket list is still open, but being chosen to head the parade is a singular honor, he said.

Ryan, an attorney, has hung a shingle for his practice in downtown Montauk on Carl Fisher Plaza for over three decades.

He got the call notifying him of the honor from another attorney, Brian Matthews. “I thought one of his clients had been arrested,” Ryan said. Ryan’s practice covers a broad range of fields, including real estate, zoning, and criminal law.

He lives with his wife, Dianne Ryan, in a house on Lazy Point he bought and renovated in 1979.

Gordon Ryan first came to Montauk for the surfing, after graduating from Loyola University New Orleans School of Law. He would practice law during the summer in Montauk, then head north to work near a ski resort in Vermont. After doing that for a couple of years, he found himself lingering in Montauk after the summer season had ended. Friends in Montauk warned him he better leave or he would get stuck there for the winter.

He didn’t believe them. Heading up to Vermont, he stopped over in Boston, only to have his car stolen. He returned to Montauk, and Amagansett, where he has lived ever since. His friends had been right, he said, smiling: He was “stuck in Montauk.”

Dianne and Gordon Ryan had three daughters, Robin, Loralee, and Tess. Tess Ryan, the youngest, died at seven years old in 2001, after being diagnosed with brain cancer when she was five. The support of his Montauk and Amagansett neighbors moved Ryan and his family greatly. “The town turned out for us like you wouldn’t believe. They took over,” he said.

For two years, while Dianne and Gordon Ryan took the ailing Tess to the city for treatment, the community rose up in support. The trash was picked up; his other two daughters were taken to school. Local attorneys kept his law practice going, and fundraisers were held.

The fire department gave Tess a ride in a truck with her friends, sirens blaring. The East Hampton Town police gave her a couple of ride-alongs in a patrol car, as well.

Tess’s doctor told Ryan and his wife that they should find a support group. “Doc, I’ve got a whole town,” Ryan responded. “I am indebted to the people of this town, and the town government. The town saved us.”

Gordon Ryan, in return, has done many things for the community. He helped, along with former East Hampton Town Justice Catherine Cahill, to set up a Youth Court. East Hampton teens would take a class once a week, learning about the responsibilities of lawyers, judges, juries, and court officers. Then they would sit in on and decide the fates of fellow teens who had admitted to committing petty crimes.

“These are New York State sanctioned courts,” Ryan explained. “The defendant has to admit that he is guilty,” Ryan said. At that point, a jury of his or her peers, fellow teens, decide on the punishment. The most serious punishment was to require the guilty youth to take a tour of the county jail in Riverside.

The court was disbanded when the town got into financial troubles a decade ago.

Gordon and Dianne Ryan now enjoy going out on the Sunfish sailboats. They also man the motor boats that referee the Breakwater Yacht Club’s Wednesday Night Races series in Sag Harbor. The couple also enjoy spending time on their 22-foot-long Robalo power boat.

Because he is leading the parade, Ryan won’t have an entry float. He has won best float in the parade twice. His floats over the years have been sometimes risqué, sometimes political, but always topical. The year Dick Cheney accidentally shot Texas attorney Harry Whittington in the face, Ryan’s float was titled, “The Dick Cheney Gun Club: Bag a Lawyer Today.” The year of the Bernie Madoff scandal, Ryan’s float was called “Bernie and the Debts.” Martha Stewart got his attention another year, with the “Martha Stewart Inhouse Outhouse.”

It’s not all fun and games as Grand Marshal. You have to get introduced at the annual luncheon, where former Grand Marshals pass the mic in what turns into a roast. “The knives will be out,” Ryan said. “Even my own daughters are going to roast me.”

The 57th annual Montauk Friends of Erin St. Patrick’s Day Parade will kick off from Edgemere Road at noon on Sunday, March 24.

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